Trunks trekked up the creaky wooden stairs, Goten floating in tow behind him. It was already late in the afternoon, and Trunks had had a frustrating day. After returning his stack of books on ghosts and poltergeists to the library—something that earned him more than one judgmental stare from the circulation desk—Trunks had spent the better part of the day seeking out an available psychic. The problem wasn't a dearth of professional psychics in West City; the issue, Trunks had been surprised to find, was that most were booked up solid with appointments for the entire day.
Some time after his twelfth unsuccessful phone call, Trunks had slammed down the telephone and angrily flipped the phone book shut. "How many gullible idiots are there in this city?" Trunks had complained.
Goten had shrugged in reply. "We want an appointment, too. Does that make us gullible idiots?"
"It's different with me," Trunks had insisted. "I'm actually being haunted by a ghost."
"Well," Goten had said, "maybe they're all being followed around by ghosts, too. It's not like you'd know." To which Trunks had replied by glaring at his incorporeal friend before—much to Goten's chagrin—hurling the phone book at Goten's head and straight through the ghost's body.
It had taken several more phone calls before Trunks was able to secure an appointment with Madame Maru's Mansion of Mysteries. Which was what brought him here, to a third-story walk-up shop in the rough part of town, as Sunday afternoon began to wind down. Trunks knocks on the obnoxiously alliterative storefront's door and waited for an answer. The flimsy doorframe rattled before a thin, grey-haired woman dressed in richly colored scarves and mounds of bronze jewelry opened the door.
"Hi," Trunk said as the door opened, "I'm—"
"Shh!" the woman said, raising one hand to cut off the teenager. "I sense you are the one called Trunks."
Trunks' face fell. "Wow, that's amazing," he deadpanned. "You'd almost think I gave you my name when I booked my appointment."
The woman slowly blinked her heavily made-up eyes, as though she were having trouble processing Trunks' sarcastic reply. "I sense you are a skeptic," she said, her voice high-pitched and airy. "Let us see if we cannot change that. Enter, my child." With that, the woman moved aside, gesturing for Trunks to step into the building. Trunks rolled his eyes, but stepped into the dimly lit room, Goten floating in after him. Trunks was immediately hit with the overpowering scent of dozens of burning incense cones, and promptly let out a loud sneeze.
"Yes, my child," Madame Maru said approvingly. "Let the negative energy escape you."
Trunks frowned at her as he rubbed his nose. "I'm more concerned with letting all my nasal mucus escape me. Can we get started?"
Madame Maru gestured toward the candle-lit table in the center of the room. Trunks took one seat, while the self-professed psychic sat across from him. Goten hung back, watching from one corner of the room.
"My child," she repeated, "I sense you have a need to contact the spirit world."
"C'mon, Trunks," Goten said from his spot in the corner. "Why don't we talk to a real fortune teller? That Baba lady?"
"I have my reasons," Trunks replied.
"I'm sure you do," Madame Maru said, placing her palms upon the tabletop and closing her eyes. "Now, let us begin. Speak the name of ghostly presence haunting your mind."
Trunks rolled his eyes but complied. "Goten."
"Yeah?" Goten asked.
"I'm just saying your name like she asked," Trunks grumbled.
"No, my child, you cannot speak to him directly!" the woman insisted, her eyes snapping open. "I sense a ghostly presence, but you must not disturb our connection to the spirit world."
"I'm not even in the spirit world," Goten complained. "That's the problem."
"I know that," Trunks hissed in reply.
"Then calm yourself and wait." She closed her eyes again, humming under her breath. "Oh great spirits, I call upon your mystic power, bring me the one called Goten!"
Goten chuckled as he floated over toward the table. "Here I am!"
"Would you please shut up?!" Trunks yelled, knocking over his chair as he quickly stood.
Madame Maru's eyes again snapped open. "The otherworld is a very real place, my child."
"Well, of course it is," Trunks said, folding his arms and glowering at the woman. "But you obviously have no clue what you're doing."
The psychic sighed. "My child—"
"Stop calling me that," Trunks spat out. "Just tell me how much I owe you so I can get out of here."
"Trunks," the woman said, dropping the feigned airiness in her voice, "you must let go of your anger."
"Lady," Trunks began indignantly, "all you've done is waste my time—"
"Not your anger at me. Your anger at yourself."
Trunks narrowed his gaze at her. "Why the hell would I be angry at myself?"
She drummed her fingernails against the table, her features genuinely pensive. "Whatever has happened, you must forgive yourself."
Trunks swallowed loudly, trying to ignore the sudden nausea that he felt. "You . . ." Trunks trailed off, suddenly at a loss for words. Several long moments passed as he stared down the psychic, while Goten flipped his gaze between the two of them.
"Trunks?" Goten asked after a few more moments' silence. "Are you okay?"
Trunks closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as he collected his thoughts. "Lady, you have no idea what you're talking about," he said, his voice once again strong and level. Before she could respond, Trunks pulled out his wallet and slammed a ten-thousand zeni note on the table. "Keep the change." With that, he stormed out of the small shop, Goten making his way out behind him.
"That was a fucking waste of time." Trunks began to stomp his way down the stairs, his heart pounding in his ears.
Goten nodded as he floated alongside Trunks down the stairs. "I'm pretty sure she didn't even know I was there."
"These idiots are completely full of shit. I don't know how they stay in business."
"Yeah," Goten agreed. "And what was that junk about forgiving yourself?"
"Doesn't know what the hell she's talking about," Trunk grumbled, more to himself than to Goten as he stepped out into the street. "She's just throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks." He made a sharp right turn to make his way home, only to find himself temporarily blinded by the brilliant, red-orange sun. Trunks stopped in his tracks, lifting one hand to his face to shield his eyes from the painfully bright sunset.
Trunks swallowed, trying to relieve the sudden dryness in his mouth. Sunset. A shiver ran up Trunks' spine as he squinted, peering off toward the horizon as he stood in the middle of the sidewalk. His vision began to blur; the sound of his heart pounding grew louder in his eyes.
He vaguely heard a voice saying his name. He turned his head away from the setting sun, toward Goten's ghost.
"Huh?" Trunks breathed out. "Did you say something?"
"Yeah," the apparition said, frowning. "You alright?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"You've been standing there for, like, two minutes."
Trunks looked Goten up and down. For the first time since the ghost's arrival two days earlier, he really studied its appearance. If Goten really was a hallucination, Trunks mused, his mind was doing a truly remarkable job recreating his best friend's every feature in perfect detail.
"Four weeks," Trunks said in reply.
"It's been four weeks."
Trunks pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. "You. Moron."
"Oh yeah, that." Goten began rubbing at the back of his neck sheepishly. "Exactly?"
"Give or take a few minutes. Days are getting shorter," Trunks explained. "But yeah, it was sunset."
"I, uh, wouldn't know," Goten said. Trunks watched for another few moments as Goten continued to rub at the back of his neck, an awkward and uncomfortable expression on his face. Trunks shook his head; his mind wasn't only doing an astonishingly good job reconstructing his friend's appearance, but was quite admirably recreating the dead teenager's mannerisms and expressions as well.
"We'd better be getting home," Trunks finally said. With that, he turned away from the ghost, shoved his hands in his pockets, and began the walk back toward Capsule Corporation.
Unlike most of his classmates, Trunks did not, in fact, despise Mondays. Perhaps it was because even his most advanced classes rarely posed a challenge for him, or perhaps it was that school was the one refuge he'd had lately from his mother's concerned and watchful eye, but he simply didn't feel the same dread toward Monday morning that the average teenager did.
But there were some Monday mornings that made it painfully, inescapably clear that Trunks would be facing a difficult week. Such mornings could usually be encapsulated in a single phrase, such as: "Trunks, I'm going out of town on business this week and need you to watch your sister after school"; or "Boy, make sure to go straight to the gravity room when you get home, you're starting a new training regimen"; or "Please pick a partner for your group lab assignments, due on Friday."
Or on this, the particular Monday in question: "Bra, what the hell are you doing in my closet?"
The three-year-old smiled up at her brother from her spot atop a pile of his clothes, seated in the middle of his large walk-in closet. "Makin' a fort!" she said, grinning.
"That's not a fort," Trunks said with an exasperated sigh. "It's a pile of laundry."
"Aww, give her a break," Goten said with a laugh. "It's not a bad fort for a toddler."
"It's not funny!" Trunks snapped at Goten.
"I wasn't laughing," Bra said, frowning up at her brother. "It's a very good fort."
"No, you're just being a bad girl."
Bra jutted out her lower lip before hurling a wrinkled shirt at Trunks' head. "You're mean!"
"Bra," Trunks practically whined, "will you please get out of my closet so I can get ready?"
Bra shook her head, flopping back so she was lying down on the heap of clothing. "Tell me a bedtime story!"
"It's morning," Trunks replied flatly.
"Nope!" Bra said, closing her eyes and pulling one of Trunks' button-up shirts around her like a blanket. "Bedtime! Story time!"
"Story time!" she insisted again, suppressing a giggle. "I'm so sleepy!"
"Then get in your bed!" Trunks said, trying to ignore the pounding headache developing behind his eyes. "I don't care where you go, just get out of my room!"
Bra opened her eyes, standing up and stepping out of the closet. She dusted herself off dramatically before folding her arms and staring up at her brother. "You," she said sternly, "aren't any fun anymore." With that, the child stormed out of the teenager's bedroom.
"God!" Trunks yelled, slamming his door the moment Bra left. "How did she turn into such a little brat?"
Goten snickered at that. "She must have learned from the best."
"Oh, fuck off," Trunks said, walking through Goten to step into his closet.
"Trunks," Goten said, all his earlier amusement leaving his tone, "please don't do that."
"Do what?" Trunks asked as he searched for a clean, unwrinkled shirt.
"Walk through me. It's creepy."
"You're a ghost, and you're telling me what's creepy?"
"I really don't like it," Goten complained. "It makes me feel . . . extra dead."
"You are dead," Trunks said, rolling his eyes at his friend.
"Yeah," Goten admitted, "but you don't have to keep reminding me about it."
"Because the incorporeality and the fact that I'm the only one that can see or hear you isn't enough of a reminder."
"You know what I mean," Goten huffed.
"Look, I'm still not convinced you're not just a very persistent hallucination."
Goten folded his arms and looked down toward the floor. "I'm not," he said quietly. "I don't know why you're the only one that can see me."
"We can talk about this later," Trunks said dismissively. "I'm running late as it is."
Goten frowned at the other boy. "Where are you going?"
"School, Goten. You know, the same place I go every Monday. And Tuesday. And Wednesday. And—"
"But I thought you were gonna help me!" Goten whined.
"I will, but sitting around the house all day won't solve anything. Besides, what am I supposed to tell my mom? 'Sorry, can't go to class to today, got the ghost of my dead best friend to babysit.'"
"Well, when you put it that way, it sounds ridiculous."
"When I put it any way, it sounds ridiculous!" Trunks said, pulling on a long-sleeved shirt and a baggy pair of jeans. "I need to get to school."
"So what am I supposed to do all day?"
"Watch TV? Read?"
"I can't touch anything," Goten said sadly. "You know that."
Trunks studied Goten for a few moments, contemplating his dead friend's dejected features. "Look," he offered, "if you promise to keep it quiet, you can come with me, alright?"
"Really?" Goten asked, his features brightening. "Great!"
"I mean it," Trunks said as he began to load up his backpack. "I can't have everyone seeing me talking to myself. You have to keep a lid on it."
"Yeah, of course," Goten promised. "You know, I don't think I've ever seen your high school before."
"No reason you would have," Trunks said, pulling out a box of copper wiring that he had pilfered from his mother's home laboratory the night before.
"It's just weird. This whole part of your life I don't know anything about."
"Why's that so weird?" Trunks asked, loading the wiring into his backpack. "Not like we were married or anything."
"I dunno. Do you even have school friends? You never talk about them."
"I have school friends, Goten," Trunks said flatly.
Trunks looked up from his backpack, staring down Goten for several seconds before answering. "You've got to be a hallucination," he said, pulling on the straps of his backpack. "The real Goten could never outwit me."
"No, I'm right," Trunks said, walking out his bedroom door and toward the stairs. "Now let's get out of here before my mom notices the missing wiring."
"Yeah," Goten replied, "I was gonna ask about that. What you planning on doing with that junk, anyway?"
Trunks gave the ghost a self-satisfied smile. "You'll see."
Goten had quite dutifully remained quiet throughout most of Trunks' first four classes. He finally felt compelled to speak up when, as the school bell rang for lunch, he found Trunks making his way not to the cafeteria, but to the robotics classroom at the opposite end of the school.
"Seriously," Goten said as Trunks began to press buttons on the electric lock securing the door to the classroom. "Aren't you going to go get lunch?"
"Better things to do," Trunks said as he pressed a few more buttons on the lock. Several moments later, he heard a small click and whir. He grinned as he pushed the now-unlocked door open and stepped into the empty classroom.
Goten frowned at Trunks. "Okay, how'd you do that?"
"This is what they get for using an old Altotech model," Trunks said, rolling his eyes at the inferior technology the school officials had decided to purchase. "They'd have been better off with an old-fashioned padlock." He closed the door behind him as he approached one of the large mechanical models at the front of the classroom. It resembled a rudimentary android, though it was clear that none of the wiring had been completed to make it mobile. He set down his backpack, pulling out the copper wiring he had swiped along with a few tools and a small, hand-printed diagram.
"What are you doing?" Goten asked, floating above Trunks as he began weaving the wiring through the robot's limbs.
"Rigging the dummy so it starts dancing halfway through sixth period," Trunks said, cutting another piece of wire of the coil. "Just a matter of getting the limbs wired up to this chip I brought in."
Trunks shrugged. "Mr. Danai is pretty boring. I figure this would help liven things up."
"Kind of a lot of work, isn't it?"
"Not really," Trunks said as he put the extra wiring back into his backpack. "I already made the chip, and the wiring's pretty simple." He zipped up his backpack, making his way toward the front door.
"You're already finished?" Goten asked.
"Please," Trunks scoffed. "Robotics is my best subject. I've been messing around with way more advanced models in my mom's lab since I was six." He opened the classroom door, sliding into the hallway. "Mr. Danai is going to shit himself once he sees—"
"Once he sees what?" Trunks stopped short at this new voice, turning around to see another teenaged boy of about his height standing before him.
"Chui," Trunks greeted his classmate, his eyes narrowing. "Anything I can help you with?" While Trunks' words were cordial, his tone was anything but. Although, despite his earlier protestations to Goten, he hadn't become particularly close to any of the other students during his time at the Academy, he had a friendly enough relationship with most of his classmates.
Chui Hana was the exception.
"Why the hell were you in there?" Chui asked, folding his arms at the other teenager.
Trunks countered his classmate with a question of his own. "Why the hell would I tell you?"
"I wonder what Principal Taishin will have to say about your breaking into the robotics room."
"She'll probably appreciate the extracurricular initiative."
"No," Chui said, narrowing his brown eyes at Trunks, "what she'll appreciate is the next bribe from your rich mommy."
"Who is this jerk?" Goten asked, shifting his gaze between Trunks and Chui.
"Not worth my time," Trunks answered. With that, he turned around, making his way down the otherwise empty hallway.
"I'll be the judge of that," Chui said, briskly walking up behind Trunks, grabbing his backpack.
Trunks' eyes flashed dangerously as he spun around. "Big mistake, Chui." He quickly disabled the other teen, effortlessly twisting the boy's arm behind his back.
"Get your hands off of me!" Chui yelled, tugging vainly at his right arm.
"You started it, asshole," Trunks said. "Now, why don't you apologize for trying to snatch my bag so we can both get on with our days?"
"I'll apologize with my foot up your ass!"
"Obviously you're unclear on the concept of an apology," Trunks said, squeezing Chui's arm tighter. "Allow me to explain it to you."
"Trunks," Goten cried out, "cut it out! You could really hurt him."
"Not my problem," Trunks grumbled.
"I'll make it your problem!" Chui yelled. "Now let me go!"
Before Trunks could reply, he heard a deep male voice shout from down the hallway. "Briefs! Hana!" Trunks turned to see a rail-thin, middle-aged man with graying hair approaching them.
"Mr. Danai," Trunks acknowledged his robotics teacher, finally releasing Chui from his grasp.
Chui cut in. "I can explain—"
"You can both explain yourselves to the principal," the teacher said, folding his arms and glowering at the two teenagers. "Get going."
Chui began to protest. "But he—"
"Now." Mr. Danai snapped, pointing down the hallway. Trunks shrugged before beginning the walk down the familiar route to the principal's office, both Chui and Goten's ghost following close behind.
Principal Taishin rubbed at her temples, staring flatly at the irate teenagers in her office. "Just tell me what happened so I can decide on an appropriate punishment and send you two back to class."
"He started it!" Chui insisted, jutting one thumb at Trunks.
"I'm sorry, who grabbed whom in the hallway?" Trunks asked, rolling his eyes.
"You were wrecking the robotics lab!" Chui cried.
"And you," Principal Taishin said, addressing Chui, "should have alerted a faculty member if you thought Mr. Briefs was up to something. I won't have students going around trying to police one another."
"Exactly," Trunks said smugly. "I was just defending myself."
"Oh, don't you start, Mr. Briefs," Ms. Taishin huffed out. "First of all, there's no excuse for getting into a scuffle in the middle of my school. Second, you know that you could have seriously hurt Mr. Hana here."
Chui let out a soft chuckle at that. "I am perfectly capable of defending myself from this brat, Ms. Taishin."
"So I take it you're not aware that Mr. Briefs is quite the skilled martial artist, then."
Trunks raised an eyebrow at his principal. "You know about that?"
"Trunks, I'm not an idiot. I do keep files on my students. I know full well that you won the junior division of the global martial arts tournament several years ago."
The smug expression fell from Chui's face, replaced with one of genuine surprise as he turned to Trunks. "Seriously?"
"Yeah, back when I was eight," Trunks answered honestly.
"Eight?" Chui repeated incredulously, his eyes widening. He swallowed loudly, visibly trying to regain his composure. "Well, uh, I'm still not scared of you."
"No, you're too stupid to know what's good for you."
"Quiet!" Ms. Taishin barked out, raising her voice for the first time since the two teenagers entered her office. "I have no interest in listening to your squabbles. My point is, I will not have students fighting in the hallways, whatever the reason." She frowned at the boys sitting in front of her. "Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," the teenagers said in unison.
"So what's the punishment, Lil—Principal Taishin?" Trunks asked.
"Well, it's clear enough to me that you don't actually have much of an aversion to detention, Mr. Briefs. And Mr. Hana, you seem to have an inordinate degree of interest in Mr. Briefs' robotics projects." Ms. Taishin hummed to herself as she pulled up the teenagers' schedules on her computer screen. "And as luck would have it, this happens to be lab week in your sixth period robotics class."
"Oh no," Trunks murmured. He could see where this was going.
"I'll inform Mr. Danai that you two are to be paired together for lab this week," the principal said with a knowing smile. "And if you two get anything less than a 95% on your lab assignment at the end of the week, you'll just have to do a make-up assignment together over the weekend."
"But, Principal!" Chui cried out. "I don't see how my being concerned for this school's well-being means Briefs should be able to compromise my grade."
"Your grade?" Trunks scoffed. "I'm the one being saddled with an inferior intellect here."
Chui sputtered. "Inferior—"
"Both of you, enough!" Ms. Taishin snapped, slamming one hand down onto her desk. "You're both excellent students, so as long as you keep the petty fighting to a minimum, you'll make it through the week unscathed. But I had better not hear one word about your misbehavior from Mr. Danai. Understood?"
"Yes, ma'am," Chui and Trunks once again said in unison. Chui stood from his chair first and walked out of the principal's office. Trunks followed after, finding Goten floating in the same spot where he'd left the ghost several minutes earlier.
"So what happened?" Goten asked, following after Trunks as he began to make his way toward his history classroom.
"I'm paired up with that asshole for robotics lab all week," Trunks answered.
"Huh," Goten said. "Well, that's better than detention, right?"
Trunks stopped in the hallway, folding his arms and glowering at Goten. "If I don't make it through this week," he said icily, "I'm blaming you."